Hurricane Florence: 5 Stories of Hope

From improvised weddings to a modern day Noah's Ark, strangers stepped up after Hurricane Florence. 

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- Posted on Sep 28, 2018

Keriann Otano and Dane Suarez's wedding photo

Hurricane Florence is one of the most devastating storms to have hit the eastern seaboard of the United States in recent decades. The storm has caused 47 deaths so far, and floodwaters continue to threaten the safety of residents. Moody's Analytics estimates the storm caused between $17 to $20 billion in damages. In South Carolina alone, 1,555 homes were destroyed and 1,500 people in North Carolina are still living in shelters. 

Yet in the midst of the hurricane, normal people came together to rescue, help and uplift their communities. Here are just a few of the inspiring stories that took place in the aftermath of the storm:

1. Girl Named Florence Helps Victims of Hurricane Florence

Florence Wisniewski, a four-year-old girl from Chicago, decided to use her name to raise money for recovery efforts after her parents told her and her siblings about the storm.

“We brought it to her [attention] to show her, like, the world doesn’t revolve around you, look at all of these things happening,” Trish Wisniewski told ABC news. “We asked her, ‘Do you want to help them? How do you think you should do it?’”

Florence decided she wanted to help, and with her dad’s assistance, designed a poster and brought a box to school to collect supplies. The family received enough donations to fill their garage, and are working with Matthew 25 Ministries, a nonprofit organization, to deliver the donations to the areas hit by Hurricane Florence.

2. Man Transforms School Bus into “Noah’s Ark” for Rescue Animals

Tony Alsup, a truck driver from Tennessee, used a converted bus to house 53 dogs and 11 cats from shelters in the impact area.

“I’m like, look, these are lives too,” Alsup told The Washington Post. “Animals—especially shelter pets—they always have to take the back seat of the bus. But I’ll give them their own bus. If I have to I’ll pay for all the fuel, or even a boat, to get these dogs out of there.”

Alsup bought the bus after seeing how overcrowded animal shelters became in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. He removed the seats and filled the bus with kennels and pet food. Before Hurricane Florence hit, he visited several animal shelters in South Carolina, rescuing any pets they hadn’t been able to find homes for.

Once the bus was full, Alsup drove the bus to Alabama, where a friend who ran an animal shelter, housed the animals.

3. Evacuated Woman Finds Heartwarming Note on Windshield

Ashleigh Gilleland, a South Carolina resident who had evacuated to Florida in preparation for Hurricane Florence, found a note tucked on her windshield when exiting a restaurant shortly after the evacuation. She assumed it would be an unkind note about her parking. Instead, she found a $5 Walmart gift card and a kind letter.

"Saw your license plate is from South Carolina. Not sure if you evacuated from the storm, but just know Florida is praying for you and your state," the letter read according to Southern Living. "When we had Irma, we evacuated to Alabama and received a similar letter on our car because we had a Florida license plate, so I wanted it pass it on. We understand how it feels to evacuate.”

Gilleland was touched and began thinking about how she could pay the kindness forward.

"The smallest gestures can make the biggest impacts on people’s lives,” she said.

4. Dog Befriends Squirrel Frightened by Storm

North Carolina resident, Meg Baker DeMolet, was walking her dog, Rosie, before the worst of Florence hit, when Rosie began acting strangely. Rosie tugged DeMolet toward a clump of foliage on the side of the road and gently pulled out a squirrel. At first, DeMolet thought the squirrel was dead, but after warming it in her hands, it began to wake up.

DeMolet told Myrtle Beach Online that Rosie’s’ reaction to the squirrel was unexpected.

“It was so uncharacteristic,” DeMolet said. “She just plopped him down in front of me. She carried him in her mouth like she would have carried her own puppy.”

DeMolet named the squirrel Rocky and took him in for the duration of the storm. Several animal groups have offered to help care for the squirrel, and DeMolet hopes he can eventually return to the wild.

5. Strangers Step Up to Save Couple’s Dream Wedding

Kerriann Otano and Dane Suarez were devastated when Florence forced them to evacuate from North Carolina—where they were supposed to get married in a matter of days.

The couple are performers and travel often for work. They had been planning the wedding for two years and friends and family from around the world were flying in to join them.

They drove to Otano’s home on Long Island, along the way posting on Facebook about their wedding troubles. Within 12 hours, strangers and friends alike had stepped in to give them the wedding of their dreams in New York.

"People sharing it from people who weren't even invited to the wedding just asking how can we help these people, what can we do?" Suarez told ABC.

Before they had finished the drive to New York, someone had volunteered to donate flowers. Someone else donated a venue. One of Otano’s teachers from high school volunteered to officiate. The wedding went off on time without a hitch.

“People from all around the world have been part of it,” Otano told News Observer. “It’s better than I could have imagined.”

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